Unless you have been ignoring the world since March, you are well aware we are in the midst of a global pandemic. Coronavirus has changed life for people around the world. Until we have a vaccine, we must socially distance from one another, wear masks in public, and avoid large gatherings.
The operative phrase here is “until we have a vaccine.” Dr. Fauci recently stated that we might have a vaccine ready for public consumption sometime in 2021. Once the vaccine becomes available, do you have the right to insist employees get vaccinated? Do you have the right to insist employees receive the flu shot or any other vaccines during a pandemic or even in the normal course of business?
The short answer is “maybe.” The truth is the law allows you to mandate vaccines if there is a clear business purpose. However, you must follow anti-discrimination laws providing exemptions to the rule.
What Does the Law Say About Forcing Vaccinations in the Workplace?
In 2009, the United States faced the H1N1 Virus, also known as the Swine Flu. It was potentially deadly and took many lives. Americans were frightened.
Employers attempted to enforce mandatory flu vaccines for employees. The law allows such mandates if there is a clear business reason. For instance, medical centers and nursing homes work with patients who can receive negative effects from the illness. Therefore, the flu shot is a form of herd immunity to protect patients as well as staff.
However, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reminded employers of the exemptions to the rule. According to the EEOC, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provide exceptions for qualifying employees.
Under the ADA, employees that have specific medical conditions can refuse vaccines based on their health needs. However, under the law, especially when people are at risk, employers have the right to request proof of medical exceptions. Employers may create reasonable accommodations for employees with medical exemptions to vaccines.
Title VII protects the religious right for individuals to deny vaccines. Religious beliefs must be deeply held religious beliefs. Employers can provide accommodations for employees whose religious beliefs stand in the way of a vaccine.
How Can an Employer Encourage Vaccinations?
Mandating vaccines for employees can lead down a slippery slope. However, employers can encourage vaccines for employees. Encouraging employees towards vaccines does not mean offering incentives, such as paid days off or extra overtime. These types of incentives would be considered adverse employment actions for any employee not receiving a vaccine.
Employers can offer other encouragement for vaccines. For instance, employers may choose to pay for any vaccines not covered by insurance. Furthermore, employers allow their employees to use their banked PTO when taking time off to receive the vaccine. They can even bring a nurse to the workplace to administer vaccines.
Employers may also place information within the workplace, discussing the benefits of vaccines. Providing all relevant information can help inform employees so they can make an informed decision.
When dealing with the idea of vaccines in your workplace, do not leave this to any type of management. This concept is a very touchy situation. Therefore, HR professionals should handle the employee outreach and education program regarding vaccines.
If you need an HR team to assist with any type of vaccine encouragement program, contact the HR professionals at Workplace HCM at 856-334-9711.